Synopsis: On the brink of losing her home, Maddie finds an intriguing job listing: helicopter parents looking for someone to bring their introverted 19-year-old son out of his shell before college. She has one summer to make him a man or die trying.
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Andrew Barth Feldman, Laura Benanti, Natalie Morales, Matthew Broderick, Kyle Mooney, Hasan Minhaj, Ebon Moss-Bachrach
Director: Gene Stupnitsky
Running Length: 103 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: At the start of the summer 1998 movie season, I was on a European trip that left me scrambling to catch up when I returned in early July. With so many movies to cross off my list, it became a bombastic undertaking as I trekked to Armageddon, The Mask of Zorro, The X-Files, Lethal Weapon 4, and Small Soldiers. Maybe all these action-heavy films had worn me out, but the mid-July release of There’s Something About Mary was just what the doctor ordered. A raunchy comedy that surprised critics and audiences alike, it was a box office smash and became the fourth highest-grossing film of that year.
I’m not saying the new comedy No Hard Feelings is 2023’s answer to There’s Something About Mary, but this good-natured LOL-er has arrived at the perfect time in late June, right after the first wave of post-Memorial Day releases have made their debuts. It’s the kind of breezy palette cleanser you might not realize how much you’ve been craving until it starts to work its charms on you, easily moving between foul-mouthed ribald antics and big-hearted (well-earned) emotional beats.
Working as an Uber driver and summer bartender to pay the taxes on the house her mother left her, Montauk native Maddie (Jennifer Lawrence, Don’t Look Up) is unable to stop a former boyfriend (Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Blow the Man Down) from repossessing her car, seriously hampering her livelihood. Ghosting him probably didn’t help, but keeping people at arm’s length before they get too close is typical Maddie behavior. Using Rollerblades to get around town, Maddie’s friends (Natalie Morales, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and Scott MacArthur, The Starling) are supportive, but even they struggle to help her out of her current mood funk and money problems.
Hunting for a new car, Maddie finds a Craigslist ad posted by Laird (Matthew Broderick, Trainwreck) and Allison (Laura Benanti, tick, tick… BOOM!) Becker with an interesting proposition. Their Princeton-bound son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) doesn’t have much experience with the opposite sex, having spent most of the last few years in high school keeping to himself and finding solace in video games and his work at a rescue shelter. If Maddie successfully transitions Percy into a college-ready extrovert prepared to make new friends and relationships, the Beckers will give her a second-hand, gently used car.
The set-up sounds like it was taken directly from a horny film from the ’80s or even the early ’90s before the sexploitation genre became passé. Thankfully co-writers John Phillips and Gene Stupnitsky (who also directs) take the material to a different level entirely. Once Maddie and Percy get past an awkward first encounter (he doesn’t know she’s been tasked to rattle his cage and jump his bones), a relationship builds between the two, constructed and continually reinforced by good writing. Of course, the lessons learned along the way are not just for Percy’s benefit but for Maddie’s as well. Phillips and Stupnitsky arrive at the inevitable conclusions you can see coming a mile away through surprisingly meaningful pathways.
It certainly helps that the leading performances in No Hard Feelings are so perfectly charming in every way. Lawrence has always been an actress that is the first person to take herself less seriously than anyone else in the room, and here she proves it. By throwing herself headfirst into Maddie, Lawrence frees herself from the stuffy pretense of being an Oscar winner and multiple nominee, showing off her aptitude for sly comic timing. You must have heart along with the laughs, and she, of course, knows when to turn on her gift for finding the emotional core of her character and letting that inform her physicality. She’s paired with a winning Feldman (the youngest actor, at 16, ever to take the title role in Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway), who resists the urge to play Percy as an oily incel but rather as a sensitive teenager harboring a valid reason for wanting to remain “invisible.” The two share some wonderfully comedic moments and just as many dramatically sound ones.
Full frontal nudity and a heaping dose of raunchy dialogue in No Hard Feelings replace the gross-out humor and generally skewed oddity that made There’s Something About Mary a hit 25 years ago, but the films share similarities in their evident fondness for their characters. Even with Mary’s most famous “hair” bit, the intent was never to humiliate Cameron Diaz, and there isn’t anyone in No Hard Feelings who is made to look like a loon for going along with its R-rated humor. Audiences can confidently line up for No Hard Feelings, the often viciously funny script keeps the pace brisk, and the actors turn in playfully game performances, which only adds to the overall entertainment value.